Things you should know

NLRB issues proposed rule on joint employers

As expected, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has announced publication of a proposed rule on joint employers. The rule will effectively discard the expanded definition of joint employer in the Browning-Ferris Industries decision during the Obama era and return to the much narrower standard that it had followed from 1984 until 2015. An employer may be found to be a joint-employer of another employer’s employees only if it possesses and exercises substantial, direct and immediate control over the essential terms and conditions of employment.

NIOSH publishes guide on air-purifying respirator selection

NIOSH has issued a guide intended to help employers select appropriate air-purifying respirators based on the environment and contaminants at specific jobsites.

Top trend in workers’ comp reform – legislation impacting first responders

According to National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), the introduction of legislation impacting first responders was the top trend in workers’ compensation reforms countrywide, although few bills have passed. In 2018, there were 103 bills dealing with first responders battling post-traumatic stress disorder or cancer, but only five bills passed. Washington and Florida both passed bills that would allow first responders with PTSD to file workers’ compensation claims under certain circumstances, and Hawaii and New Hampshire revised or enacted presumption bills for firefighters battling certain types of cancer. New Hampshire also passed a law that calls for a commission to “study” PTSD in first responders.

Worker fatalities at road construction sites on the rise: CPWR

A total of 532 construction workers were killed at road construction sites from 2011 through 2016 – more than twice the combined total for all other industries – according to a recent report from the Center for Construction Research and Training, also known as CPWR. In addition to the statistics, the report highlights injury prevention strategies for road construction sites from CPWR and several agencies.

State-by-state analysis of prescription drug laws

The Workers Compensation Research Institute published a report that shows how each of the 50 states regulates pharmaceuticals as related to workers’ compensation. Some of the highlights include:

  • 34 states now require doctors to perform certain tasks before prescribing
  • At least 11 states have adopted drug formularies
  • 15 states do not have treatment guidelines to control the prescription of opioids, and preauthorization is not required
  • In at least 26 states, medical marijuana is allowed in some form and nine of those states specifically exclude marijuana from workers’ compensation

Guide and study related to workers and depression

Workers who experience depression may be less prone to miss work when managers show greater sensitivity to their mental health and well-being, recent research from the London School of Economics and Political Science shows. The study was published online in the journal BMJ Open.

In March, the Institute for Work and Health published a guide intended to aid “the entire workplace” in assisting workers who cope with depression or those who support them.

11 best practices for lowering firefighter cancer risk

A recent report from the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Volunteer and Combination Officers Section and the National Volunteer Fire Council details 11 best practices for minimizing cancer risk among firefighters.

NIOSH offers recommendations for firefighters facing basement, below-grade fires

The Workplace Solutions report offers strategies and tactics for fighting basement and below-grade fires, along with a list of suggested controls before, during and after an event.

Predicting truck crash involvement update now available

The American Transportation Research Institute has updated its Crash Predictor Model. It examines the statistical likelihood of future truck crashes based on certain behaviors – such as violations, convictions or previous crashes – by using data from 435,000 U.S. truck drivers over a two-year period.

This third edition of CPM includes the impact of age and gender on the probability of crashes. It also features average industry costs for six types of crashes and their severity.

State News

California

  • Governor signed four bills related to comp. A.B. 1749 allows the first responder’s “employing agency” to determine whether an injury suffered out of state is compensable. A.B. 2046 requires governmental agencies involved in combating workers compensation fraud to share data, among other changes to anti-fraud efforts. S.B. 880 allows employers to pay indemnity benefits with a prepaid credit card. S.B. 1086 preserves the extended deadline for families of police and firefighters to file claims for death benefits.
  • Governor vetoed bills that would have prohibited apportionment based on genetics, defined janitors as employees and not contractors, identified criteria doctors must consider when assigning an impairment rating for occupational breast cancer claims, called for the “complete” disbursement of $120 million in return-to-work program funds annually, and required the Division of Workers’ Compensation to document its plans for using data analytics to find fraud.
  • The Division of Workers’ Compensation revised Medical Treatment Utilization Schedule Drug List went into effect Oct 1.
  • Independent medical reviews (IMRs) used to resolve workers’ comp medical disputes in the state rose 4.4 percent in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017; however, in over 90 percent of those cases, physicians performing the IMR upheld the utilization review (UR) physician’s treatment modification or denial. – California Compensation Institute (CWCI)

Florida

  • Workers’ compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for first responders like firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement officers and others went into effect Oct. 1.

Indiana

  • Workers’ Compensation Board will destroy paper documents in settlements. If parties mail or drop off paper-based settlement agreements and related documents, it will trash them and notify the parties by phone or email to submit online. The board urges parties to follow the settlement checklist and procedure posted on its website.

Minnesota

  • The Department of Labor and Industry formally adopted a number of changes to fees for rehabilitation consultants.
  • Department of Labor and Industry approved rule changes that slightly increase fees for medical and vocational rehabilitation services, and increase the threshold for medical, hospital and vocational rehabilitation services that treat catastrophically injured patients.
  • Effective Jan. 1, the assigned risk rate, which insures small employers with less than $15,000 in premium, and employers with an experience modification factor of 1.25 or higher, will decrease 0.7%.

Missouri

  • A new portal from the Department of Labor offers safety data, video, and training programs.

New York

  • The Workers’ Compensation Board has launched its virtual hearings option for injured workers and their attorneys. For more information.
  • Attorneys or representatives are now required to check-in to all hearings using the online Virtual Hearing Center when appearing in person at a hearing center.

Virginia

  • The Department of Labor and Industry has issued a hazard alert warning of the potential dangers of unsafe materials handling and storage in the beverage distribution and retail industry.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Annual Report for 2017 shows claims and first report of injury are trending up, bucking the downward trend nationally. There has also been a big jump in alternative dispute resolutions.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

 

Legal Corner

Workers’ Compensation
Appellate court clarifies permanent disability rule – California

In Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board and Dean Fitzpatrick, the issue revolved around whether the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board applied the correct standard when calculating a worker’s permanently disabled rating. The Board had affirmed an administrative law judge’s ruling of 100% permanent disability, based on Labor Code Section 4662.

Upon appeal, the Appellate Court noted that Section 4662 of the law does not provide for permanent total disability separate from Section 4660, which governs how the finding and award of permanent total disability shall be made “in accordance with the fact” as provided in 4662. It annulled the Board’s decision and remanded the issue for further proceedings.

Federal court upholds use of state worker classification test – California

In a blow to the California Truckers Association (CTA), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal deregulation of the trucking industry does not pre-empt the state agency from applying a common law test, called the Borello test, because the law only pre-empts state rules that are “related to prices, routes, or service.” Named for a 1989 state Supreme Court case, the Borello test is the standard used to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. California Trucking Association v. Su, No. 17-55133

Reasonableness of refusal to accept job considered in nixing TTD – Florida

In Employbridge v. Rodriguez, the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned an award of temporary total disability benefits to an injured worker who refused a job offer because the commute was too long. In this case, a worker and her husband both worked for Employbridge, a staffing service provider. When they received a new assignment in Largo, they moved to Largo from Tampa. A few years later, the worker fell at work and injured her knee. Initially, the company accommodated her work restrictions with a clerical position at their Largo offices. She was then offered a similar position at the Tampa office, but turned it down.

A Judge of Compensation Claims found the commute between Largo and Tampa justified the decision to refuse the position and awarded TTD benefits. However, in a split decision the 1st District Court of Appeals overturned the award.

Worker wins retaliation case for filing a workers’ compensation claim – Michigan

In Mitchell v. Dore & Associates Contracting (D & A), a worker broke his leg in a work-related accident and received benefits. D & A would hire workers for projects and lay them off when the job was complete. Workers believed if they were injured on the job, they’d never be asked to work again.

After the worker recovered, a former supervisor asked him to work on a project. While working he heard his supervisor speaking with the risk manager for D & A. The worker alleges the supervisor said the risk manager no longer wanted Mitchell on the project and he was never recalled to work.

While the Court of Appeals noted that causation between the workers’ comp claim and layoff is difficult to prove, it found that the trial judge had properly kept information about criminal convictions and excused work absences from the jury and upheld the jury verdict that D & A had unlawfully retaliated.

Damages of $873,000 upheld in negligence suit against supervisor – Missouri

While the statute generally immunizes co-employees from civil liability for a workplace injury, if a co-employee engaged in a negligent act that purposefully and dangerously increased the risk of injury to another employee, the suit can proceed. An employee of a staffing agency was working for a manufacturer and operating a lamination machine. He noticed glue on the bottom rollers and notified the lamination line supervisor, who removed a metal grate and allegedly told the worker to clean the bottom rollers with a wet rag. (The company prohibited workers from running the machine without the guard installed, and the machine displayed a warning against operation without it.)

The worker’s thumb was pulled in and crushed and he filed a personal injury suit against the supervisor and the manufacturer of the laminating machine. He settled with the machine manufacturer, and, while the other case was pending, the supervisor died, so a defendant ad litem was then substituted. Based on the jury’s findings and the settlement with the machine manufacturer, the trial judge awarded $873,000 in damages. The Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

Invalid arbitration agreement means discrimination and retaliation suits can proceed – Missouri

In Caldwell v. UniFirst Corp, a worker was diagnosed with lumbar disc protrusions and herniations and given work restrictions, which the company accommodated initially. His doctor imposed more restrictions and his supervisor allegedly objected to a request for time off and repeated requests for accommodations. After surgery, the company did not allow him to return to work, but extended his medical leave, then fired him.

The worker filed suit against his former employer and supervisor, alleging discrimination on the basis of his disability and retaliation for pursuing a comp claim. The defendants moved to compel arbitration, noting that the former worker had signed an employment agreement that included an agreement to arbitrate any employment-related claims.

A trial judge denied the motion to compel, finding that the arbitration agreement was invalid and the Court of Appeals agreed. For an agreement to be enforceable each party must provide something of value to the other – some form of “consideration,” which was lacking in this situation.

Employer must reimburse firm for third-party settlement of over $1 million – Nebraska

In 2008, an explosion at a Conagra Foods Inc. plant in Garner, North Carolina, killed three Conagra employees and injured more than 60 others while the food company was installing a new water heater. The company that provided a contracted engineer to oversee the project, Dallas-based Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., was sued and settled the claims after failing to obtain contractual indemnification from Conagra.

The engineering company sued Conagra and a jury in district court awarded Jacobs the full amount of the settlement payments, $108.9 million. The Supreme Court affirmed, noting the food company’s “negligence was the proximate cause of Jacobs’ damages” stemming from the lawsuits following the explosion.

Untimely claim denied since employer had no knowledge of injury – New York

In Matter of Taylor v Little Angels Head Start, a worker filed a comp claim more than one year after the employer had put her on medical leave. She claimed her bilateral knee condition was caused from walking between the employer’s work sites and the repetitive stair climbing associated with her job duties. A workers’ comp judge awarded benefits, but the Workers’ Compensation Board found she had failed to give her employer timely notice of injury.

The Board can waive the thirty-day notice if notice could not be given, the employer had knowledge of the injury, or the employer is not prejudiced. While the employer knew of the knee condition, she did not tell her employer it was work-related for over a year.

Scheduled loss of use award can be adjusted for prior injuries – New York

In Matter of Genduso v. New York City Department of Education, a worker injured his right knee and filed a comp claim. He had had two previous injuries to his right knee, which resulted in loss of use awards of 20% and 12.5%. An expert opined that there was a 40% loss of use and the judge deducted the prior awards, leading to a 7.5% scheduled loss of use. The Workers’ Compensation Board and Appellate Court affirmed the award.

Worker’s tort claim against insurer for allegedly providing false information to the police can proceed – North Carolina

Although a workers’ compensation insurer generally enjoys the same immunity from tort liability afforded the employer, there are limits to that immunity. In Seguro-Suaraez v. Key Risk Inc. Co., a worker suffered a serious brain injury in a work-related accident and suffers from significant behavioral and memory deficits. While the insurance company found the injuries compensable, it denied a request for an occupational home therapy evaluation. Over a six-month period, the company video-taped the worker, edited nine hours of surveillance to 45 minutes, and showed to a neuropsychologist, who said the worker was exaggerating his symptoms.

The Industrial Commission issued a decision in the workers’ favor and the insurance company conducted an independent medical exam, which determined the symptoms were valid. In spite of this, the company directed its investigator to convince the Lincolnton Police Department to bring criminal charges against the worker – that he was obtaining his workers’ compensation benefits by false pretenses. This led to his arrest and jailing and indictment on 25 counts of obtaining property by false pretenses and one count of insurance fraud. The charges were dismissed after a psychological examination to determine competency to stand trial noted conditions consistent with his documented medical history.

The Court of Appeals upheld a trial court ruling that the worker can pursue malicious prosecution, abuse of process and unfair and deceptive trade practices claims, but found the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the bad faith and civil conspiracy claims.

Return-to-Work notice requirements clarified – Pennsylvania

The Workers’ Compensation Act requires an employer provide a worker with “prompt written notice” when the employer receives medical evidence that the worker is able to return to work in any capacity. Although “prompt” is not defined, the notice must give the worker a reasonable period of time before the employer requests a modification of benefits.

In County of Bucks v. WCAB (LePosa), the worker received a notice of her ability to return to work along with a letter offering her pre-injury position at the same wage, which had no expiration date. When she did not return to work, the county filed for a suspension of benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board said the county was required to prove the worker had received a notice of her ability to return to work before sending her the job offer. The Commonwealth Court disagreed since the offer had no expiration date, noting a notice of ability to work sent with a job offer letter does not, as a matter of law, render the notice not prompt.

Worker with lifetime medical care award must be weaned from opioids – Tennessee

In C.K. Smith Jr. v. Goodall Buildings Inc., an injured worker with an award of lifetime medical care from his employer received high dosages of opioids to manage pain. Several years after the injury, the doctor expressed concern about the possibility of addiction. About the same time, the employer requested a Utilization Review (UR) of the employee’s medications and prescriptions and the UR Board recommended weaning down. The employee then requested a new physician panel, which a trial court approved. However, the Supreme Court’s special workers’ compensation appeals panel reversed that determination, stating that it would violate state code and remanded the case to trial court.

High court finds injury an advancement of preexisting condition and overturns disability award – Tennessee

In Thomas D. Flatt v. West-Tenn Express Inc., a worker fell when a coworker dropped his side of an oil-drip pan, which they were carrying together and claimed to injure his neck and left arm. The worker was in a work-related auto accident one year earlier, but maintained he was fully recovered. The trial court found the new injury was compensable and the impairments did not stem from the auto accident and awarded a 44% permanent partial disability rating.

On appeal, the trucking company had the employee undergo examination by four doctors. Upon reviewing the medical testimony, the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel with the Supreme Court overturned the trial court ruling. It determined this was not a new, distinct injury, but an advancement of a preexisting condition.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

OSHA watch

OIG finds flaws in fatality and severe injury reporting program

In a recent audit report the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General noted OSHA is not doing enough to ensure it has complete information on work-related deaths and severe injuries, and is not consistent in citing establishments that fail to file required reports. While disputing some of the findings, the agency agrees that better case documentation could promote consistency in issuing citations, but expresses concern that the report suggests the “burden to ensure reporting of injuries and illnesses falls on the agency” instead of employers.

Budget increase expected

A “minibus” appropriations bill approved by the congressional conference committee includes a $5 million increase in OSHA’s budget. It also allocated no more than $102.4 million to State Plans, an increase of $1.5 million, the first increase since 2014. The Susan Harwood Training Grants Program is slated to remain viable for another fiscal year, receiving around $10.5 million.

Federal compliance assistance efforts are scheduled for a $2.5 million increase to $73.5 million, and at least $3.5 million is going to the Voluntary Protection Programs. The enforcement budget is slated for a $1 million boost to $209 million.

Legionellosis webpage updated

The Legionellosis webpage has been updated to include information on preventing, identifying and managing workplace exposure to Legionella bacteria hazards. The Legionella eTool, is a device intended to assist employers, health care providers, and safety and health professionals when inspecting jobsites for Legionellosis.

New trenching resources

An updated Quick Card on trenching operations provides information on protecting workers around trenches, including daily inspections, and trench wall safety.

A new 45-sec public service announcement on trench safety, 5 Things You Should Know to Stay Safe, features U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and highlights well-known and proven safety measures that can eliminate hazards and prevent worker injuries.

Website to feature safety tip of the week

Every Monday, the OSHA homepage will feature a brief safety tip to help employers and workers prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. Each tip will link to educational and training resources.

California – Recordkeeping violations extended to five years

A bill, AB 2334, expanding the statute of limitations for recordkeeping requirements under the jurisdiction of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) was signed into law and becomes effective January 1, 2019. The bill changes the definition of “occurrence” in the California Labor Code for purposes of the statute of limitation for violations relating to recordkeeping, “until…corrected, or the division discovers the violation, or the duty to comply with the violated requirement ceases to exist.” In effect, it gives Cal/OSHA the authority to issue citations for recordkeeping violations that exist during the entire five-year period employers are required to maintain injury and illness records. Previously, employers could not be cited for violations that took place more than six months before the citation was issued, the same as the federal statute.

Enforcement notes

California

  • San Jose-based GreenWaste Recovery Inc., a waste removal company, was cited $46,270 for serious violations after a worker was run over by a truck and killed.
  • Disneyland was cited and fined $33,000 for failing to properly clean water storage tanks following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in August of last year that affected three employees as well as visitors. Disneyland has appealed.

Florida

  • Five contractors were cited for seven workplace safety violations after a fatal pedestrian bridge collapse at the International University campus in Miami and face proposed penalties totaling $86,658. Violations included exposing employees to crushing and fall hazards and allowing multiple employees to connect to an improperly installed lifeline.
  • Inspected as part of Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction, Coastal Roofing, Inc. of Jacksonville, faces $105,283 in proposed penalties for exposing workers to fall and other hazards.

Georgia

  • As a result of a follow-up inspection that was part of a formal settlement, Great Southern Peanut LLC of Leesburg, a peanut processing facility, faces $309,505 in proposed penalties and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Citations included failing to develop and implement procedures for confined space entry, train employees on confined space hazards, reduce compressed air to the required level, and meet recordkeeping requirements.

Michigan

  • Packaging Specialties, Inc. of Romulus faces 17 citations and $144,900 in penalties for repeatedly exposing workers to safety hazards, including failing to train workers to safely operate aerial lifts, and conduct periodic safety inspections for the control of hazardous energy.

Missouri

  • After an employee was killed at the St. Joseph sawmill site, American Walnut Company LLC was cited for two repeated and 14 serious safety violations and faces fines of $199,183. The repeat violations related to failing to protect employees from amputation hazards and keeping walking-working surfaces free of debris.

Nebraska

  • Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services (NRCS) and its executives are criminally charged after workers’ deaths. At the time of the incident, the company received 30 citations reaching almost $1 million and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. They now face a 22-count criminal indictment that they not only failed to implement worker safety standards, but then tried to cover it up during the subsequent inspection. They also are charged with mishandling hazardous wastes removed from rail tanker cars during the cleaning process.

Pennsylvania

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed all workplace safety citations against Pro-Spec Corp., doing business as Pro-Spec Painting, an abrasive blasting and painting company in Easton and Quakertown and assessed $44,536 in penalties.

Virginia

  • Lanford Brothers Company faces five citations and $304,130 in penalties for exposing workers to respirable crystalline silica hazards while using jackhammers to remove concrete from bridge piers.

For more information.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

 

OSHA Update

Walking/Working Surfaces Rule – important deadline approaching, enforcement lessons

Falls are one of the leading causes of serious injury and death in the workplace. Approximately 20 percent of the workplace fatalities, disabling injuries, and days away from work in general industry result from slips, trips, and falls. Each year, the Walking/Working Surfaces Rule is among the most cited standards by OSHA. Four of the agency’s 10 most cited standards in 2017 were related to fall prevention, including the rules for ladder safety and scaffolds.

OSHA began its attempts to update the rule in 1990, which was finally accomplished in 2016, with a 513-page document. The update to the general industry walking-working surfaces standards (found in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D) and its scaffold standards (found in Subpart I) clarified definitions, eliminated overly specific application conditions, better organized the requirements, simplified general requirements, aligned more closely with the construction standard, and gave flexibility to use personal fall protection systems in lieu of guardrail systems. It has met with few legal challenges.

November 19 deadline for existing fixed ladders

With the exception of some requirements for updating fixed ladders, the requirements of the updated standards became effective in 2017. Under the revised standard, cages or wells for fall protection on fixed ladders higher than 24 feet are no longer acceptable. However, there are grandfather provisions and a phase-in period for the new provisions:

  • Fixed ladder systems installed before November 19, 2018 must have a cage, well, ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system
  • Fixed ladder systems installed on or after November 19, 2018 must be equipped with a personal fall arrest system or ladder safety system (cages or wells for fall protection are no longer acceptable) (1910.28(b)(9)(i)(B))
  • When any portion of a fixed ladder is replaced, the replacement must be equipped with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system (1910.28(b)(9)(i)(C))
  • Cages and wells on all fixed ladders extending more than 24-feet must be replaced with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system by November 18, 2036 (1910.28(b)(9)(i)(D))

Insights from enforcement statistics

Since OSHA’s fiscal year begins in October, the most recent enforcement statistics include 3.5 months under the old rules and 8.5 under the new. However, they do shed light on vulnerable areas for employers. (Statistic from Conn, Maciel, Carey webinar, Lessons learned from OSHA’s updated Walking/Working Surfaces Rule)

The highest number of citations were under Section 1910.22 General Requirements:

  • 291 citations for general housekeeping
  • 122 citations for clean and dry floors
  • 53 citations for walkways free from hazards
  • 18 citations for maximum load intended

Lesson: Clearly the number one issue is keeping floors and surfaces clean, dry, and clear of hazards. This type of citation is low hanging fruit for OSHA. It’s also important to note that while the rule does not have a requirement for posting a maximum intended load notice, employees must know the maximum intended limit.

Section 1910.28 is the second most cited section. This requires employers to protect workers from all fall hazards along unprotected sides or edges that are at least four feet above a lower level.

  • 205 citations for unprotected sides and edges
  • 55 citations for fall protection stairways
  • 49 citations for falls – holes
  • 26 citations for falls around dangerous equipment

Lesson: Unprotected sides and edges are a pain point for employers and OSHA. Though the rule states specific details for different situations, it offers more fall prevention and protection options than guarding, such as safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), positioning systems, travel restraint systems, and ladder safety systems and identifies the exceptions to the requirement.

Grandfathering provisions

In addition to the grandfathering provisions for fall protection for existing fixed ladders discussed above, the rule also allows grandfathering for:

However, in the preamble it notes that grandfathering is not allowed for guardrail height. Grandfathering status is unclear for the dimensions between ladder ledges and step bolts.

OSHA resources

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HR Tip: New FMLA forms available from DOL

The Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) certification forms and notices are now valid until Aug. 31, 2021. DOL didn’t make any substantive changes to the forms, other than the new expiration date. Here they are:

Notices

Certification forms

The DOL must submit its FMLA forms to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval every three years. OMB review is required to ensure the FMLA certification and notice process isn’t too bureaucratic.

While the forms aren’t mandatory, many employers use them. Some employers copy and paste the DOL form into their own form, replacing the DOL logo with their own.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Standing desks: the jury’s still out

The workplace is often partially blamed for our sedentary lifestyles. Amidst the growing evidence that sitting is bad for our health, “sitting is the new smoking” has become a popular adage.

So it’s not surprising that standing desks emerged as a trendy solution. Standing would burn more calories, get us moving, and improve our health. In fact, in 2018 standing desks were identified as the fastest-growing benefits trend in a survey released by the Society of Human Resource Management.

The standing desk craze began in 2013 when a policy against sedentary behavior adopted by the American Medical Association encouraged greater use of standing workstations to promote a healthier workplace. The desks can cost between $500 to $1,500, and many employers are using them in their cadre of benefits to recruit and retain workers. But is this based on scientific evidence, antidotal assumptions, or simply commercial exploitation?

Studies

While the research is limited, the conflicting results fuel the debate. Some argue that there is little proof standing desks are better for workers who sit in front of a computer all day. A highly-cited 12-year study reported in the Journal of Epidemiology of 7,000 Canadian office workers found that people who often stood at work were nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as opposed to those that sat more often.

In Feb. 2018 a small study was published in Ergonomics that analyzed the potential effects of standing for a long time. The researchers studied 20 people standing in front of a desk doing tasks for approximately two hours. They found discomfort “significantly” increased in all body areas and reaction time and mental state deteriorated, although creative problem solving improved.

A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2016 that examined sit-stand desks concluded, “It remains unclear if standing can repair the harms of sitting because there is hardly any extra energy expenditure.”

Yet, a study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology looked at whether standing burns more calories than sitting and found that standing for six hours a day would burn an extra 54 calories a day. Stretched out over a year this would equal a loss of about 5.5 pounds. Cleveland Clinic wellness expert, Dr. Roizen, said this benefit is about the equivalent of eight minutes of walking for women, and about 14 minutes of walking for men per day.

Another study in the August issue of the Scandinavian Journal Of Work, Environment And Health that included more than 230 Australian desk-based workers, says the introduction of standing workstations would save 7,492 “health-adjusted life years” in the prevention of obesity-related diseases.

Led by Elizabeth Garland of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, along with the Center for Active Design and Perkins + Will, a study concluded standing desks reduced sitting by about 15 percent. Furthermore, adjustable workstations “may also have social and mental health benefits concerning job satisfaction, coworker communication, and work efficiency.” Although the numbers were not statistically significant, the anecdotal information is interesting

An earlier 2014 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that adjustable desks (stand or lower to sit) reduced sedentary time by more than three hours a week. It also increased workers’ sense of well-being and energy, while decreasing fatigue and appetite.

Another study published in 2017 in the International Journal of Networking and Virtual Organizations looked at software professionals. It suggested standing instead of sitting workstations result in only modest increases of physical activity, do not have an effect on mental alertness, actually tilt the stress-recovery balance towards stress, but decrease musculoskeletal strain in the neck and shoulders, although increasing it in the legs and feet.

More issues

Some ergonomic experts purport that the modest benefits gained by using stand/sit desks actually tilt to the negative side when the desks are not set up or used properly, which is all too common in the workplace. When not properly adjusted, serious postural problems and injuries continue. If the height of the standing desk is incorrect, shoulder and neck pain arise just like sitting.

When employees begin using standing desks, they’re gung-ho – it’s new and exciting. They’ll push themselves and stand for the whole day. Prolonged standing can cause harm to the back, legs and feet. And soon the standing desk has the same fate as the treadmill at home, gathering dust. The idea is to add movement and variety into the day.

But, it’s not an exercise program. Some suggest a 20-minute walk offers more long-term health benefits. Others point out that our brains just perform some tasks – like those that require fine motor skills – better sitting down.

Conclusion

The bottom line seems to be that more research is needed and that standing desks are not an end-all cure. Many of the studies are plagued by limitations in protocols and small sample sizes. Sedentary lifestyles, work-related pain, and fatigue are complex problems; standing desks are not the solution, but they may be part of it.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com